Navy Sonar, EPA Pesticides, Chromium Corp. Fined, Forestry Carbon Offsets, Wildfire Forecasts, One Million EVs
Navy Sonar Regulated to Protect Whales, Dolphins … EPA Corrects Pesticides Policy Re: Endangered Species … Elementis Chromium Hit With $2.57 Million Fine … California Approves First Forestry Carbon Offsets … Scientists Create First Real-Time Wildfire Forecasts … Charge Ahead California Wants a Million EVs
Navy Sonar Regulated to Protect Whales, Dolphins
WASHINGTON, DC, November 14, 2013 (ENS) – The Obama Administration today finalized regulations requiring the U.S. Navy to implement measures to protect whales and dolphins during training and testing activities in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The training and testing is being conducted to ensure the readiness of naval forces.
The Navy requested authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, because the sound generated by active sonar and the sound and pressure generated by detonating explosives could affect the behavior of marine mammals, cause a loss of their hearing sensitivity or cause other injuries.
The Navy’s current authorization expires in January 2014. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this new authorization is limited to five years, and expires in November 2018.
NOAA Fisheries has made a final determination that the effects of these Navy operations would have a “negligible impact overall” on the species and populations of marine mammals likely to be exposed to the loud sonic blasts.
Based on that final determination, NOAA is requiring that the Navy use mitigation measures and, if properly followed, expects the exercises will not result in serious injury or death to a large number of marine mammals.
Exposure to sonar and explosives has been associated with the stranding of some marine mammals, and some injury or death may occur, said NOAA. “Therefore,” the agency says, “the final rule allows for a small number of incidental injuries to marine mammals from sonar, as well as vessel strikes and explosions.”
As of November 10, the NOAA reports 1,052 strandings of whales and dolphins in the Northern Gulf of Mexico – five percent stranded alive and 95 percent stranded dead.
Under the newly issued authorization, the Navy must minimize effects of its activities on marine mammals by:
• establishing marine mammal mitigation zones around each vessel using sonar;
• using Navy observers to shut down sonar operations if marine mammals are seen within designated mitigation zones;
• using mitigation zones to ensure that explosives are not detonated when animals are detected within a certain distance;
• implementing a stranding response plan that includes a training shutdown provision in certain circumstances, and allows for the Navy to contribute in-kind services to NOAA Fisheries if the agency has to conduct a stranding response and investigation;
• using specific mitigation measures at certain times to reduce effects on North Atlantic right whales.
The final rule also includes an adaptive management component that requires that the Navy and NOAA Fisheries meet yearly to discuss new science, Navy research and development, and Navy monitoring results to determine if modifications to mitigation or monitoring measures are appropriate.
NOAA Fisheries and the Navy use independent, experienced vessel-based marine mammal observers, as well as Navy observers, and passive acoustic monitoring to better understand how marine mammals respond to various levels of sound and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures.
The final rulemaking is online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#aftt.
EPA Corrects Pesticides Policy Re: Endangered Species
WASHINGTON, DC, November 14, 2013 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and three other federal agencies released new policies today that may better assess the risks that pesticides pose to endangered species.
The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity says these policies will ensure that mitigation measures recommended by federal wildlife agencies are put in place to protect endangered species in agricultural areas, and in areas downstream affected by pesticide runoff.
The policies respond to an April 2013 report from the National Academy of Sciences that criticized the EPA for failing to fully assess the impact of pesticides on endangered species.
On Friday, four federal agencies – the EPA, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture – will hold a stakeholder workshop entitled “Status of Efforts to Implement the Recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences’ Report, “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides.”
The four agencies have jointly developed interim scientific policies and procedures, and will present these approaches for implementing the recommendations contained in the April 2013 NAS report. The public can provide feedback at the workshop.
“The actions announced today represent an important step forward in protecting our nation’s most endangered plants and animals from toxic pesticides, but this is just the first step,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The EPA needs to do much more to ensure this new plan results in meaningful, on-the-ground conservation actions to protect our most endangered species and their habitats,” he said.
For more than two decades, the EPA has disregarded the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with federal wildlife agencies on how to implement conservation measures to protect threatened and endangered species from pesticides.
As a result, says Hartl, endangered species have been put at unnecessary risk of exposure to toxic pesticides.
In 2011 Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to study this issue. The NAS report identified deficiencies for all the agencies involved in pesticide consultations, but singled out the EPA’s approach for numerous analytical shortcomings.
It concludes the agency “does not estimate risk,” “is ad hoc,” and “has unpredictable performance outcomes.”
In response the EPA said it will now consult on all sublethal, indirect and cumulative impacts on endangered species and their critical habitats from pesticides.
The EPA can bypass full consultation for endangered species only when the anticipated risk of lethal pesticide exposure is less than one in a million.
The agency will now consider the effects of pesticides on listed species and their critical habitat in areas downstream of agricultural areas where the chemicals are used.
“With over a billion pounds of pesticides applied each year in this country – the highest pesticide usage rate in the world – the dangers to America’s endangered wildlife are still enormous,” said Hartl. “It’s time for the EPA to start using the best available science and put in place common sense conservation measures.”
Elementis Chromium Hit With $2.57 Million Fine
WASHINGTON, DC, November 14, 2013 (ENS) – Elementis Chromium, Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chromium chemicals, today was ordered to pay a penalty of $2.57 million for failing to disclose information about substantial risk of injury to human health from exposure to hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, on workers in chemical production plants, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act, TSCA.
With a U.S. base in East Windsor, New Jersey, Elementis is a UK-listed global specialty chemicals company with operations worldwide.
Elementis has been manufacturing and distributing chromium-based chemical substances and mixtures for more than 35 years and has two main manufacturing plants in Castle Hayne, North Carolina, and Corpus Christi, Texas.
In September 2010, the U.S. EPA filed a complaint against Elementis with the Office of Administrative Law Judges, alleging violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The EPA complained that Elementis failed to report the results of an industry-commissioned study that documented significant occupational impacts to workers in modern chemical plants.
According to EPA, the study filled a gap in scientific literature regarding the relationship between hexavalent chromium exposure and respiratory cancer in modern chromium production facilities.
The Toxic Substances Control Act requires chemical manufacturers, processors, or distributors that obtain information demonstrating that a substance or mixture presents a substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment immediately inform the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This information allows EPA to understand and limit, when necessary, potential hazards associated with the manufacturing, use, and disposal of chemical substances.
Chief Administrative Law Judge Susan Biro held an administrative hearing in December 2011, where both sides presented expert witnesses and evidence.
On November 12, Judge Biro issued her decision, concluding that Elementis had violated the Toxic Substances Control Act, and assessed the multi-million dollar penalty.
“This decision supports our commitment to public health and reinforces the importance of companies providing key information about the risks their chemicals pose,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
“Our job is to protect all Americans from exposure to harmful chemicals at home, at work and in their daily lives,” she said.
The decision will become a final order 45 days following issuance unless the company chooses to appeal the decision to EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board.
California Approves First Forestry Carbon Offsets
SACRAMENTO, California, November 14, 2013 (ENS) – Staff of the California Air Resources Board Wednesday approved the first California forest carbon credits issued under the state’s new cap-and-trade offset protocols.
The Willits Woods project developed by Coastal Ridges, LLC was issued 1.2 million Air Resources Board-approved carbon offset credits. Coastal Ridges, LLC is located in Willits, California and the Willits Woods project covers 19,000 acres in Mendocino County.
“This action recognizes the important role forests play in fighting climate change,” said ARB Chairman Mary Nichols.
“Forests managed under the protocol not only furnish additional compliance options for businesses subject to the cap-and-trade program, they also provide habitat for wildlife and a wide range of improved watershed benefits for California,” she said.
As with all carbon offsets projects, the Willits Woods had to first be verified by an ARB-accredited, third-party verifier. The project, the related number of carbon credits, and all relevant documents and data were then reviewed by ARB staff before issuance of ARB offset credits.
ARB also issued 242,000 compliance offset credits for the Farm Cove Community Forest Project located in Maine, which increases carbon stocks through improved management of the forest.
Offset credits approved by the ARB can be used by companies to comply with California’s cap-and-trade program. Each offset credit generated under an ARB protocol is equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas, and the largest driver of climate change, says the ARB.
The Forest Offset Protocol was one of four offset protocols approved by the ARB in 2011. Credits are issued based on the number of metric tons of carbon sequestered in trees in the forest that are managed for each offset project.
In order to qualify for the carbon credits, projects under the forestry protocol must be managed for the purpose of carbon storage for at least 100 years.
Forest projects also must promote and maintain a native forest comprised of multiple ages and mixed native species to provide wildlife habitat and improved watershed benefits.
Carbon offsets accepted by the ARB come from sectors not covered by the cap-and-trade program, and must be above and beyond the carbon that would have been stored in the forest if it had been managed on a business-as-usual basis.
Carbon offsets act as a cost-containment mechanism under the program because offsets cost less than state auctioned carbon allowances. A covered business may use offsets to account for up to eight percent of its cap-and-trade compliance obligation.
You can find the Forest Offset Protocol here: http://www.arb.ca.gov/regact/2010/capandtrade10/copusforest.pdf
Scientists Create First Real-Time Wildfire Forecasts
BOULDER, Colorado, November 14, 2013 (ENS) – Scientists have developed a new computer modeling technique that, for the first time, promises to produce continually updated daylong predictions of wildfire growth throughout the duration of long-lived blazes.
Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, and the University of Maryland have combined cutting-edge simulations of the interaction of weather and fire behavior with newly available satellite observations of active wildfires.
Updated with new observations every 12 hours, the computer model forecasts critical details such as the extent of the blaze and changes in fire behavior.
“With this technique, we believe it’s possible to continually issue good forecasts throughout a fire’s lifetime, even if it burns for weeks or months,” said NCAR scientist Janice Coen, lead author and model developer.
“This model, which combines interactive weather prediction and wildfire behavior, could greatly improve forecasting, particularly for large, intense wildfire events where the current prediction tools are weakest,” she said.
Firefighters now use tools that can estimate the speed of the leading edge a fire but are too simple to capture critical effects caused by the interaction of fire and weather.
The researchers tested the new technique by using it after the fact on New Mexico’s 2012 Little Bear Fire, which burned for almost three weeks and destroyed more buildings than any other wildfire in the state’s history.
The researchers say that forecasts using the new technique could be useful in anticipating sudden blowups and shifts in the direction of the flames, such as what happened when 19 firefighters perished in Arizona last summer.
The forecasts could enable decision makers to look at several newly ignited fires and determine which pose the greatest threat.
“Lives and homes are at stake, depending on some of these decisions, and the interaction of fuels, terrain, and changing weather is so complicated that even seasoned managers can’t always anticipate rapidly changing conditions,” Coen said. “Many people have resigned themselves to believing that wildfires are unpredictable. We’re showing that’s not true.”
Coen had developed a computer model, known as the Coupled Atmosphere-Wildland Fire Environment, CAWFE, that connects how weather drives fires and, in turn, how fires create their own weather. She simulated the details of how large fires grew but needed more immediate data to produce a longer-term prediction of an ongoing fire.
To solve the problem, co-author Wilfrid Schroeder of the University of Maryland produced higher-resolution fire detection data from a new satellite instrument, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, VIIRS.
Launched in 2011, VIIRS provides coverage of the entire planet at intervals of 12 hours or less. Coen and Schroeder then fed the VIIRS fire observations into the CAWFE model.
“The transformative event has been the arrival of this new satellite data,” said Schroeder, a professor of geographical sciences and a visiting scientist with NOAA. “The enhanced capability of the VIIRS data favors detection of newly ignited fires before they erupt into major conflagrations,” said Schroeder. “The satellite data has tremendous potential to supplement fire management and decision support systems, sharpening the local, regional, and continental monitoring of wildfires.”
The breakthrough is described in a study appearing today in an online issue of “Geophysical Research Letters.”
The research was funded by NASA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor.
Charge Ahead California Wants a Million EVs
LOS ANGELES, California, November 14, 2013 (ENS) – A new campaign to bring one million electric vehicles to California’s roads over the next decade was announced today at an event in Los Angeles organized by Charge Ahead California, a coalition of business, environment and community advocates.
The campaign aims to help clean up California’s transportation system and improve air quality in communities across the state by putting one million electric cars, trucks and buses on the road.
Special attention will be paid to low-income communities and communities of color, who in the past have been exposed to a greater share of air pollution than other communities.
The California campaign launch follows announcement of the state’s participation in an eight state agreement to put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road and a commitment by the state that 10 percent of private and public fleets will be electric vehicles.
At the launch event a sampling of light-duty and medium-duty electric vehicles will be on display, including an electric flatbed truck from Electric Vehicles International and an electric bus from Complete Coach Works.
Speakers from five environmental groups called for adoption of electric vehicles. They include the environmental justice organization Communities for a Better Environment, which says, “Pollution affects everyone in California. Many live in smoggy areas like Los Angeles and Riverside where breathing the air can take as many as three years off a person’s life.”
Also supporting the campaign is the Greenlining Institute, a racial justice institute that works “to bring the American Dream within reach of all, regardless of race or income.”
The Coalition for Clean Air is also a campaign partner. The group’s President and CEO Joseph K. Lyou says, “If you live in California, air pollution touches your life – from high asthma rates, to alarming numbers of premature deaths, to the $28 billion price tag we pay each year. California is home to seven of the country’s 10 most air-polluted cities, with 90 percent of our population breathing air that violates federal health standards.”
Roland Hwang, a speaker tapped for the campaign launch, is Transportation Program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy program.
“Record breaking sales in August confirm that Californians are clamoring for plug-in electric cars,” Hwang blogged. “Prices are falling rapidly. GM and Nissan have reduced their prices by at least $5,000 from their first models, spurring record sales. This year, sales nationally are expected to increase five-fold since the electric car debuted in 2011.”
As part of the Charge Ahead California campaign, the NGO Environment California Monday posted a petition on the Care2 website asking people to email Governor Jerry Brown urging him to put a million clean cars, buses and trucks on the road in the next decade.
Governor Brown is a supporter of electric vehicles. In September, on National Plug-In Day, he signed six bills that ease the way for EVs. An Executive Order issued by Governor Brown earlier this year established a target of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road in California by 2025.
The coalition looks forward to the Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens to the public November 22, with several new electric vehicles on view, a development that the coalition says demonstrates “the increasing demand for electric vehicles at all income levels.”